Georgia Democrats have been teaching from the same old
algebra book for decades: 90 percent of the black vote plus 30
percent of the white vote equals a Senate seat or the
Recent developments, however, suggest new math may be in order.
Democrats go into November with black nominees in at least two
of their eight statewide slots, incumbent Thurbert Baker for
attorney general and challenger Henrietta Canty for insurance
commissioner. The number will rise to three if Michael Thurmond
can win tomorrow's runoff for labor commissioner.
The fall election figures to be a low-turnout affair. Pollsters
are finding great waves of contentment, with the economy humming
and no global crisis threatening our security.
That suggests no compelling issue to motivate voters -- unless
African-Americans can be convinced they have an extra stake in
Top Democrats are cautiously hopeful that a deluge for Baker,
Canty and Thurmond would float Roy Barnes into the Governor's
Mansion and might even help long shot Michael Coles into the
"It should have a positive effect, but the black candidates
tend not to have the money to get their message across," said
state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, D-Augusta. "It's
going to depend on how effective the Democratic Party is at
reaching out and mobilizing people."
Some history suggests a black candidate brings out Democratic
votes for everyone. The year Douglas Wilder was on the ballot to
be Virginia's first black lieutenant governor, his party swept
Closer to home, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., is credited
with generating an unusually high black turnout in the Atlanta
area when she was imperiled in 1996. That turnout provided U.S.
Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., with a narrow margin of victory.
Blacks normally vote at a rate much below their number in the
population. But studies showed one of every four voters in 1996
was black, meaning they turned out as avidly as whites.
While McKinney doesn't face a serious threat this year, the
state's other black members of Congress -- John Lewis in Atlanta
and Sanford Bishop in Southwest Georgia -- will be churning
their vote machines against scary opponents.
Democrats everywhere are warming to the benefits of
diversifying the ticket. Last month, no less an operative than
President Clinton called a black college president in Florida to
recruit him for statewide office, hoping to bring disaffected
blacks back into the family. …